Posted on Sep 11, 2020, 4 p.m.
The Idaho House has passed a resolution to end the COVID-19 Emergency Declaration, this measure would end all restrictions across the state but will also remove state eligibility for $117 million in emergency federal funds meant for hospitals, while allowing the state economy to flow.
Idaho lawmakers voted to advance a resolution that would end the state COVID-19 emergency declaration in a move that would lift all restrictions across that state, but would remove eligibility for some federal emergency aid money. Upon passage, the resolution would end the state of emergency, but it does not appear to block the governor from declaring another one to put the restrictions back into place if it passed.
The vote was 48-20 and it came despite concerns voiced by some members that the resolution may be in violation of the state Constitution and that it was outside the scope of the special session in which legislators are required to adhere to the subject on which it is called. That session was called to address only the upcoming election and limiting the civil liability connected to the virus.
The sponsor for the resolution, Rep. Steven Harris, said that the original declaration of emergency was intended to ensure that COVID-19 cases did not overburden the state hospital’s ability to care for patients. But hospital capacity has remained more than adequate since the beginning of the outbreak and the governor’s declaration and stay at home order has caused “extensive collateral damage” to the citizens of Idaho.
Agreeing during the debate that restrictions should be lifted Rep. Christy Zito said that she was disturbed by some of the precautions that are being enforced related to the outbreak. "It is time to return to normal. Not a new normal, to normal," she said.
“We are putting our children in plexiglass cages," said Zito. "We are masking faces so those that are hearing-impaired feel lost and cannot function. We are masking faces so that children like my grandson, who is borderline autistic, is traumatized often by faces that he can't see and relate to."
Others were concerned that suspending the emergency declaration would mean that Idaho would lose funding to fight the spread of the virus. However, the resolution would not impact CARES Act funding, but it would make the state ineligible for some of the funds from FEMA and some of the other federal programs. Additionally, all of the businesses would be able to reopen and allow the state economy/jobs to flow once more on its way to recovery.
According to Rep. Brooke Green, the $117 million that the state would be losing out on is money that is intended for providing PPE for healthcare workers and to help keep long term facilities and hospitals afloat; which has remained more than adequate since the beginning of the outbreak.
"We're at a critical junction, and we are not over this looming crisis. In the coming months, we don't know what this is going to throw our way," said Green in opposition. "But to prematurely revoke this declaration, and to not provide that resource that FEMA funding for communities - We have an obligation to provide for our communities and part of that is ensuring we have all resources available to us."
Also in opposition Rep. Ilana Rubel likened suspending the declaration just because the situation was not getting any worse to "throwing away your umbrella during a rainstorm because you're not getting wet." Adding that "I'm very reluctant, given the economic straits we're in now, to turn our noses up at $117 million that could be pivotal in pulling us out of this.”
Despite objections, the majority agreed, saying that Idaho should not be relying on those federal funds anyway, such as House Majority Leader Rep. Mike Moyle who said "I refuse, when we talk about money, I refuse to sell my liberties for money," he said. "I refuse to be blackmailed for money. And I refuse to sell my state and my blessings of my family and everything else for some federal freaking check."
Rep. Tim Remington also rebutted saying that the emergency declaration has “instilled fear” into the citizens of Idaho and is serving to cause divisions within the state. Remington said that people need to reject that fear, and he expressed surprise at state church pastors who have cancelled services for their congregations due to parishioner concerns and fear-mongering. Remington himself is a pastor at a smaller church with close to 1,000 parishioners that remains open. "I've actually laid hands on people that have COVID and prayed for them. I never got COVID," he said.
An analysis on the House Concurrent Resolution was conducted by the state’s Attorney General Office for Rep. and Senate Pro Temp Brent Hill which found that the measure did not fall into any part of the topics that were allowed to be addressed in the special session, and therefore would likely not carry any legal weight if it were passed by both chambers as a result.
The resolution did not come up for a vote in the Idaho Senate, meaning that it is basically dead and did not go into effect. The question remains will it be scheduled and brought up again since the majority voted in favour, or was this all just for show and an exercise in muscle-flexing futility as surely the representatives are well aware of the rules and how they apply.
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